IRAN ATTEMPTS TO MEDDLE IN IRAQ’S ELECTIONS
Eighty-seven different political parties will contest the Iraqi elections on Saturday 12thMay in a country struggling to embrace democracy. It will be Iraq's fourth parliamentary elections since the 2003 US-led invasion and the first national test after the defeat of ISIS (Daesh) in December 2017. The elections decide the 329 members of the Council of Representatives who will, in turn, elect the Iraqi president and prime minister. The election lists include Shia, Sunni and Kurdish coalitions. The prime minister will come from the Shi’ia factions. Candidates are elected to serve for four years.
The incumbent Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, on the back of defeating ISIS, is ahead in the polls, although most pundits think he will have difficulty forming a coalition following the election. Abadi caused outrage earlier this year when he attempted to create an alliance with the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), which includes some lethally sectarian Iranian-backed militias such as Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), who waged a genocidal campaign against Iraq’s Sunni population under the guise of fighting ISIS.
Even the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr withdrew from an alliance with Abadi’s Nasr (Victory) Coalition in protest. Sadr is now pursuing a more moderate anti-corruption platform and is distancing himself from Iran’s intensive meddling in Iraq, making an alliance with the Iraqi Communist Party’s al-Sairoon (The Marchers) faction. There are also rumours indicating that Al-Sadr may form an alliance with Abadi’s list after the poll. Meanwhile Abadi has made a dangerous enemy of the former Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki whom he ousted at the last election. Maliki is a pro-Iranian puppet and was widely blamed for the collapse of the Iraqi army and the brutal takeover of vast swathes of Iraq by ISIS. The venally corrupt Maliki spent his two terms in office robbing the Iraqi people and faithfully carrying out instructions from Tehran to wage war on his own Sunni citizens. He now uses his plundered fortune to finance paramilitary intimidation of his political enemies. Maliki and Abadi both belong to the Shi’ite Dawa party, but this time Maliki has announced his own candidature and refused to back Abadi. He has said that Dawa supporters will be free to choose between his Dawlat al-Qanoon (State of Law Coalition) and Abadi’s Nasr Coalition.
The Sunnis are not united and have presented several lists including one led by Osama al-Nujaifi, one of Iraq's three vice presidents and another one, Wataniya Alliance, led by Vice-President Ayad Allawi, a secular Shi’ia, who is in alliance with former Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Mutlak and the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament Salim Jabouri.
After the failed attempt at Kurdish independence through a referendum in September 2017, the Kurds have become more divided and are unlikely to have an impact on the formation of the new government.
Following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the toppling of Saddam Hussein, the grossly incompetent American administrator Paul Bremer introduced a system that assured the Kurds are always given the post of President, while the Shi’ias get the Prime Minister’s job and the Sunnis are given the post of Speaker in the parliament. Bremer mistakenly believed that this system would prevent sectarian infighting. In fact it has had almost the opposite effect and has played into the hands of the Iranian mullahs who have exploited the on-going political turmoil to levy a stranglehold on Iraq. Choosing political leaders based on their sect or ethnicity instead of on their merits has had disastrous consequences for Iraq, where political corruption and ineptitude has left the Iraqi economy and infrastructure shattered.
Abadi now says that his country requires more than $100 billion to rebuild the major cities of Ramadi, Fallujah and Mosul, destroyed by the war against ISIS. He is holding out the begging bowl to the international community and has attracted significant pledges of aid from almost everyone except his immediate neighbour Iran, whose paramilitary forces have been largely responsible for much of the Iraqi destruction.
Abadi and other leading contenders for election on 12thMay are promising to rebuild Iraq. But the Iraqi population have heard these pledges before. They have waited in vain for 15 years for basic electricity, water and sewerage services to be restored. Iraq boasts the world’s fifth largest proven oil reserves and its landmass covers a vast ocean of gas. It is one of the most fertile Middle Eastern countries and has plenty of water, with the two biggest rivers of the Middle East, the Tigris and the Euphrates, flowing through its territory.
But endemic corruption, poor governance and weak security have left the country’s infrastructure crumbling. Major cities like Baghdad often have less than 2 hours of electricity supply daily. On-going power-cuts and water shortages leave Iraqis boiling with rage. They watch in dismay as the same old faces take power again and again and do nothing but fill their own pockets. Only 20% of the candidates registered for Saturday’s general election are newcomers, so it doesn’t look as if Iraq’s misery will end anytime soon. Even Grand Ayatollah Sistani has joined the fray by condemning past electoral experiments as failures, aiming his criticism at those who were elected or appointed to high positions in the government, whom, he says, abused their power and took part in spreading corruption and squandering public money. He is refusing to endorse any candidate.
The concept of liberty for ordinary Iraqis has become almost as rare as the concept of peace. Corruption has brought Iraq to its knees and only a major onslaught against the criminal political classes will have any chance of restoring order. Foreign interference has also had a destructive role in the country. Since 2003, Iran has been able to exert significant influence in Iraq and is now pumping money into the Iraqi elections to aid its favoured candidates like Hadi Al-Ameri, leader of the Badr Organization from the Fatah (Conquest) Coalition in alliance with Hashd, the Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias and Nouri al-Maliki.
Iran’s ability to sway the outcome of the Iraqi elections as part of its wider strategy of destabilising the Middle East should be of deep concern to the West. Iranian hegemony in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq is a threat not only to peace in the Middle East, but also to world peace. Iranian meddling, particularly by the terrorist Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), in virtually every aspect of Iraq’s political, economic and security structures, aided and abetted by years of wrong-headed American policies, will make it almost impossible to hold a free and fair election. The only way to ensure free, fair and democratic Iraqi elections is to oust the Iranians from Iraq and end their deadly stranglehold. The US Administration’s new recognition of Iran as the Godfather of international terror and the main sponsor of conflict in the Middle East is at least a promising start.